Can I Touch Your Hair? Poems of Race, Mistakes and Friendship

By Irene Latham and Charles Waters, Illustrated by: Sean Qualls and Selina Alko
Carolrhoda Books, 2018
Middle grade
Ages 8-12, Grades 3-6
ISBN: 978-1512404425
Other formats:  e-book

Nothing is ever truly black and white. That’s what two classmates in the book Can I Touch Your Hair? learn in fifth grade when they reluctantly wind up paired together for a writing project and believe they have nothing in common.

Irene and Charles’s differences in gender, style, and friends are already stark. Throw into the mix the fact that Irene is white and Charles is black, and both students fear they’re in for an uncomfortable and unmanageable few weeks.

Yet, once each begins to write on the same subject as the other about his or her life experiences and perspectives, Irene and Charles discover that while the differences between them are indeed tangiblein shoe shopping, dinner conversations, church services, hairstyles, and favorite sportstheir differences are unique preferences or circumstances that can be appreciated.

They also learn that color is only skin deep. Even with varying experiences, opportunities, and challenges, at the end of the day, their matters of the heart aren’t so unalike at all, and thus, a friendship unfolds. Readers will experience Charles’s perspective on why it’s annoying to have someone touch his hair, and Irene helps readers understand how one can make awkward fumbles in expressing herself even with the best of intentions.

This book could serve as a great conversation starter for adolescents from middle school age to older youths. Adults may even find it helpful to read these poems with a child and share their own experiences navigating race, identity and friendships. The vibrant illustrations by artists Sean Qualls and Selina Alko are an excellent companion to these compelling poems and will help young readers make sense of what it means to stretch beyond one’s comfort zone to try and understand others.  – SHA

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